The land on which Avoriaz now sits was originally used entirely as a summer grazing plateau for cattle owned by the local Roverée family. The peaks of Chavanette and Hauts Forts were the stomping ground of many a local hiker, among them was Jean Vuarnet who grew up in Morzine before winning a gold medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
Vuarnet returned to Morzine from California inspired. He wanted to open up the snowfields of Avoriaz by building a purpose built ski resort, the likes of which had never been seen before in the Alps. He struck a partnership with Gerard Bremond, the founder of holiday group Pierre & Vacances and together they planned a new resort concept – no cars, reduced pollution and electric heating throughout. In the era of the car, this was a brave move. They also commissioned a team of young, ambitious architects to help them. Jacques Labro, Jena Jacques Orzoni and Jean-Marc Roques were tasked with developing an architectural style that integrated the new resort into the existing landscape, rather than taking inspiration from the established Savoyarde chalet concept.
The incredible architectural geometry of Avoriaz was born on 28th December 1962. Morzine’s town hall approved the proposed development of a new ski resort and the installation of the new ski lift network. At that time there was just one restaurant on the plateau and many, many cows. The Hotel les Dromonts opened in time for Christmas 1966 and it was the first building to be finished in modern day Avoriaz. Featuring cosy corners, raised platforms, crossing walkways and open fireplaces, it’s the building that best expresses the influences of the surrounding mountains.
In Avoriaz every door opens onto a piste. All buildings are clad in red cedar tavaillons or shingles, which are left varnish free so the natural elements change their tone and colour. The roofs of all buildings incline to cope well with snow coverage and all balconies face the sun. It’s perhaps for this reason that the resort became known as Saint Tropez de Neige, such was its popularity with the glitterati of the day. Brigitte Bardot was said to have fallen for her ski instructor in the resort, while Steven Spielberg was a fan during time spent in Avoriaz during the annual International Fantasy Film Festival.
Modern day Avoriaz is still known for its high-rise accommodation buildings with acute angles. It’s a style that was described as contemporary, avant-garde and fantasy by Jacques Labro, part of the original architectural team who still works on new building projects in Avoriaz. Now 80 years of age, Lambo recently said “I started my career with Avoriaz, and I will finish with it.”